A visitor at Reynisfjara Beach on the southern tip of Iceland risked being swept away by a sneaker wave, according to a travel photographer who witnessed it.
In the viral video posted to Instagram earlier this year by Leroy Souhuwat, a woman in a bathing suit stands in nearly waist-deep water until the tide comes rushing in and she sprints toward dry land. Her reason for being in the water — whether she was posing for a picture or wanted to enjoy a polar dip — was unclear.
At first, it may appear that she just didn’t want to get her upper body wet or even colder, which makes sense because all of the other beachgoers are wearing winter clothes and avoiding the water.
In the caption, Souhuwat explained that there were warning signs posted around the beach telling people not to enter the water because of “sneakerwaves.”
“Usually I tell people to watch out and keep their distance, but when I see sh*t like this I’m just mind blown,” Souhuwat wrote.
According to the website Visit Iceland, sneaker waves look like small waves but are actually huge. The reason is the ocean floor at Reynisfjara deepens rapidly, which makes the wave’s pull incredibly strong.
“When an ocean wave grabs you, you are knocked off your feet and it is very tough to stand up and find balance again,” the company said. “One of the reasons for that is that the wave creates a suction that drags you out and washes the sand and gravel from under your feet.”
The website added that once the ocean grabs you like that, there’s nothing anyone can do to save you, so you’ll either drown or die of hypothermia in the freezing water.
Since 2013, five people have reportedly died at Reynisfjara Beach, making it Iceland’s deadliest beach.
In the video, though, the woman got away safely but did become the subject of ridicule.